Ideas aren’t everything

More than once, I have been approached by someone saying, “Oh, you’re a writer? Listen, I’ve got a great idea for a book. Tell you what, I’ll give you the ideas and you’ll write it and we can share authorship.”

Are these people coming to me because I am not a successful full-time author (yet)? Would they approach a famous writer with the same request?

I’ve actually had one person get upset at me when I refused, as if I had turned down free money. “Don’t you understand? I’m going to do all the hard work; all you have to do is write it down.”the-writer2

Obviously, these people have no idea what it means to write. Everyone has ideas; I have more book ideas than the time I have to write them in. And I expect everyone reading this has ideas as well.

Expressing those ideas? Not everyone can do that.

As a lawyer, I see the same thing in court. Some attorneys are much smarter than I am yet don’t go to court very often and don’t know how to present their arguments. Having control over your words is not an easy skill to acquire.

God knows, I am still trying to acquire it in my writing. Some reviews for ARCH ENEMIES spoke of the great plot twists and character development while at the same time noting that the writing was still rather pedestrian.

Hey, give me a break; it was the first novel I ever wrote. I’m just thrilled it was at least good enough to get published.

But it’s true. The sequel (THE AXES OF EVIL, expected to be published late this year or early the next) is a big improvement over the first. I’m learning each day that little tweaks here and there can make huge differences in the story.

A few months ago, I attended a writer’s workshop that pushed this further, and in the last week J. Thomas Ross, a professional editor, while once more admiring my story and characters, reduced the first two chapters of THE AXES OF EVIL to bits, making points about my writing style that seem so obvious that I slap myself and say “Why didn’t I see that?”

It’s kind of like when I learned to play guitar. I was justly proud of myself, and the bands I played in as a teenager were not bad, but in retrospect amateurish. It took years of practice and playing until I felt really confident. Writing is the same.

This blog is meant to help those writers who, like myself, are just starting out and making mistakes along the way. I learned early on that coming up with a good story is not enough. I am still working on the second part: the writing. And I probably will always be working on that part.

When I think about this topic, I am often reminded of my favorite author, Charles Dickens. I read PICKWICK PAPERS years ago, and had an epiphany at one point. Dickens was describing Pickwick’s meal and dinner conversation, and at the end of the chapter, it hit me that nothing had happened. Nothing in that chapter pushed the plot forward or developed the characters in new ways, but I couldn’t put it down. Dickens, being such a master writer, had kept me enthralled writing about nothing. Ideas aren’t everything.

Very few authors can accomplish that, but the very best can come close. And that’s the lesson for today: The best ideas in the world are meaningless if you cannot express them in a way that makes people want to read them. And that’s a skill that you have to learn.

4 Responses

  1. Being myself an amateur-amateur-amateur writer, I greatly appreciated this article. I identified particularly with the part that went: “Why couldn’t I see that!?” Often I don’t even need a teacher to see it for me — I notice it myself when I read over it again! No doubt the short story (which you are invited to read) that I have put up in my blog has great blunders.

    But a question I have regards one thing you said, the message of your post:

    “The best ideas in the world are meaningless if you cannot express them in a way that makes people want to read them.”

    Which people in particular are we talking about? How do you determine that you have written something that people want to read? In other words, what makes good writing good? What made that Pickwick Papers chapter readable, and your novel, in turn, “pedestrian?” Where is the magic touch of the “master writer?”

    It’s an interesting question to ponder, I think.


  2. I wish I had an answer… there is a basic level of competence that must be met, however. My first novel met that level (or else it wouldn’t have been published) but that doesn’t mean it is where it could be. There are bands out there who make records who are competent but couldn’t compete with the Beatles or Bruce Springsteen or other masters of the form no matter what.

    For myself, I know I have something people want to read, because they have read it and asked for more and so on. But that doesn’t mean I can’t improve!


  3. So true.


  4. “Are these people coming to me because I am not a successful full-time author (yet)? Would they approach a famous writer with the same request?”

    I’ve had it happen to me. And several friends who are far better known have had it happen to them. (Grin) It’s the flip side of ‘you’ll steal my idea’ and usually idea originator has this other idea – which is that you’ll write it and he’ll get at least 50% of the money, which will make him rich. Here is the news… 1) I have more ideas than I can use; 2) even if someone did ‘steal your idea’ they would not steal your execution and interpretation of it – and it is that that sells (as you said); 3) No, you wouldn’t get rich anyway. Not unless the author is Steven King or JK Rowlings.

    Liked by 1 person

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